Case Law Update – June 2012
REPETITIVE TRAUMA-CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME
Rose v. GEICO and Broadspire, Fla 1st DCA Case No. 1D11-4843 (June 13, 2012)
In this case, the claimant worked for GEICO as a typist in various positions over a 13-year period. Back in 1999, she originally filed a claim for bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) which was compensable. However, the claimant did not seek regular treatment, and thus, the Statute of Limitations ran on this 1999 claim. The claimant continued to work in typing positions and subsequently filed a Petition for Benefits alleging she sustained a new repetitive trauma to her hands, seeking a carpal tunnel release surgery, and assigning February, 2010 as the date of accident.
JCC Margaret Sojourner denied compensability of the claimant’s claimed repetitive trauma injury and associated benefits with the alleged February, 2010 date of accident. In denying compensability of the claim, the JCC found that none of the treating or IME physicians were able to say that the claimant’s symptoms in 2010 were any different than the symptoms she suffered previously. One of the doctors testified that without any additional testing showing a worsening of symptoms, there would be no objective findings that would support a change in condition. The JCC ruled that since the claimant failed to offer any evidence of a change in condition, she has not carried her burden to prove a new accident or aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
First DCA’s Ruling:
The First DCA reversed the JCC’s denial and held that the claimant’s February, 2010 repetitive trauma/carpal tunnel syndrome claim was, in fact, compensable. The Appellate Court held that there was no need to show a change in condition, given the claimant’s allegation of subsequent repetitive trauma.
The court noted that the claimant continued to do a great deal of data entry, typing and use of a computer mouse over a several year period. As a result, the claimant suffered a new repetitive trauma each time she performed her job duties of data entry/non-stop typing. The claimant’s treating doctor, Dr. Fiore, testified that he understood the claimant’s work activities to entail: “Working at GEICO full duty, typing a full shift, which is approximately 7.75 hours per day divided into two shifts, interrupted by lunch.” Dr. Fiore testified that based upon the results of his physical examination wherein he elicited objective positive signs of carpal tunnel syndrome bilaterally, his uncontradicted opinion was that the claimant’s diagnosis of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome was a recurrence of her condition ongoing since 1999 and that the major contributing cause of the present recurrence of symptoms was her typing activity.
The Appellate Court noted that repetitive trauma can be proven by demonstrating a series of occurrences, the cumulative effect of which is injury. The claimant’s undisputed testimony that she engaged in extensive typing on a daily basis for 13 years coupled with the doctor’s opinion that the described typing was the major contributing cause of the CTS established compensability of her claim for the February, 2010 accident.
It is important to note that even when a particular claimant has documented medical evidence of prior carpal tunnel syndrome, if they continue to engage in repetitive activities which may cause trauma, they very well may be entitled to compensation from the same or a subsequent employer several years after the CTS first manifested itself. As long as the claimant can obtain objective medical evidence that demonstrates causation by clear and convincing evidence, the condition will be compensable.